Sister Mary Nesta Ezeanya, who serves at St. Gregory Retreat Center in Adair, is celebrating her 25th anniversary of making her first vows as a member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary religious community.
Born in Nigeria, she knew early on that she wanted to be a religious woman and after sixth grade, went to a school for girls who were discerning a vocation to religious life.
At age 16, she became a postulate and worked in her homeland and Kenya. It was during her 1988-1990 novitiate that she “came to understand the person of Jesus and wanted to grow in that intimacy,” she said.
Though she was frightened initially of the challenges of religious life, she prayed and decided to go ahead with her first vow Nov. 29, 1990.
“Looking back, I’m so glad I made the decision to make my first vow,” she said.
She taught in school, attended the University of Nigeria and earned a degree in social work.
She taught school and worked with the poor and homeless in Nigeria, then was asked to go to Minnesota to the Sharing and Caring shelter for the poor, where she served the homeless for 10 years.
She remembered one case in particular of a woman who struggled with addiction and homelessness. The woman had no high school diploma, but when Sister Mary Nesta left Minnesota, the woman had married and earned a master’s degree.
“It’s always a very powerful experience” to witness such change, she said. And, she likes to be part of their journey and allow God to work through her.
“It’s part of who I am,” she said. “People struggle in life and I try to assist.”
By the time she was asked to come to Iowa in 2012, she had two master’s degrees, in social work and theology, and a certificate in spiritual direction.
At the St. Gregory Retreat Center, she works with women who struggle with depression, anxiety and other issues.
“I enjoy what I do and work with wonderful women who choose not to give up on themselves,” she said.
“I’m thankful to God for his blessings, good health and wonderful people and spiritual directors. It’s why I pursued a certificate in spiritual direction,” she said. “I help people discover their purpose in life and pursue that with a passion.”
“When I look back, I can’t believe it’s been 25 years,” she said. “My heart is full of gratitude for so many graces.”